Bench warmers now rugby’s hottest prop­erty

Weekend Herald - - Your Sporting Weekend - Pa­trick McKendry Wy­att Crock­ett Photo / Photosport

Two weeks ago, Wy­att Crock­ett per­formed what front row­ers at the top level re­gard as a mod­ern mir­a­cle — he played 76 min­utes at loose­head prop for the Cru­saders against the Brumbies.

Crock­ett, a 35-year-old vet­eran of 71 tests ran on to the GIO Sta­dium pitch to re­place the in­jured Tim Perry af­ter four min­utes and kept go­ing un­til the fi­nal whis­tle — a stint which in­cluded a tor­rid se­ries of scrums on the Cru­saders’ line in the sec­ond half when they had two men in the sin­bin.

De­spite the nu­mer­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage and pres­sure be­ing ap­plied by the home side, Scott Robert­son’s men didn’t con­cede a point in the sec­ond half.

What made Crock­ett’s shift all the more im­pres­sive was that he was com­ing back af­ter four weeks out with in­jury — a con­cus­sion suf­fered against the Lions — and that he has re­tired from in­ter­na­tion­als and will call it quits at the Cru­saders once this sea­son fin­ishes.

He is near­ing the end of his ca­reer but play­ing as though he is just start­ing it. But Crock­ett, who has played 197 times for the Cru­saders af­ter mak­ing his de­but in 2006 (196 in Su­per Rugby, one against Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions), has no re­grets about his de­ci­sion to scale back his in­volve­ment in the game to play­ing for the Tas­man Makos and watch­ing his two boys play the game at the fam­ily’s new home in Nel­son.

Crock­ett says he would play for the All Blacks against France next month if Steve Hansen was des­per­ate, but, with Joe Moody re­turn­ing he doesn’t think he will be needed, adding there

were plenty of young loose­heads com­ing through who de­served their chance.

“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it but I think we’re pretty well served,” Crock­ett said ahead to­day’s game against Waratahs.

He also says while his play­ing nearly the full 80 min­utes in the 21-8 win over the Brumbies showed what was pos­si­ble, he wouldn’t rec­om­mend it, and in fact be­lieves im­pact play­ers will be be­come even more im­por­tant to the game in the fu­ture.

“These days, as long as you’ve got a strong group of props, it’s ideal to make those changes around that 50 to 60 minute mark be­cause if you’ve got strength in the depth of your squad, I be­lieve those guys com­ing on with fresh legs have more to give and can have an im­pact on the game,” Crock­ett said.

“That’s what we try to do — the guys on the bench aren’t just there as the num­ber twos, they’re there to come on and make an im­pact and re­ally fin­ish the game off. I think it will hap­pen more and more. Po­ten­tially, New Zealand teams do it bet­ter than some of the other teams, I think, in us­ing that bench as a real weapon late in the game.

“It’s prob­a­bly led by the way the All Blacks have done it and I think Su­per Rugby teams are start­ing to get bet­ter at it as well.”

When it was sug­gested that the depth of New Zealand rugby al­lowed it more than per­haps other Su­per Rugby or in­ter­na­tional sides, Crock­ett replied: “It’s also that mind­set and mak­ing sure the coaches em­pha­sise that at train­ing and show real be­lief and value in the bench. “Some­times it would be easy to leave the starters on for a bit longer, but if they show a bit of faith in that bench, those play­ers get a bit of con­fi­dence and you’ll find that they’ll start to re­ally add and con­trib­ute to­wards the end of the game.”

Crock­ett should know — he has started only 25 of his 71 tests, and, with All Black Joe Moody re­turn­ing from a hand in­jury to start for the Cru­saders against the Waratahs at AMI Sta­dium to­mor­row, Crock­ett again finds him­self with a No 17 on his back. That ro­ta­tion strat­egy has al­lowed him to play for so long and in so many matches, how­ever. He said his body is “hang­ing in there”.

“I have been for­tu­nate — I haven’t had too many long-term in­juries and if I have they’ve been right at the end of cam­paigns. I work re­ally hard to keep my body strong and healthy but also the coaches here have man­aged me well and I haven’t been over­loaded.”

No one is more sur­prised than Crock­ett that he has been capped at Su­per Rugby level so many times. The next best is Keven Mealamu and Stephen Moore (both 175). It is a tri­umph for quiet achiev­ers the world over and in a month or so, when he ticks over to 200, the hum­ble man from Golden Bay will surely be recog­nised for it.

“It’s pretty bizarre, re­ally,” he said. “It’s just gone past so quickly. I find it re­ally strange that I’m the most capped player in Su­per Rugby. It’s a nice thing to have and I’m sure one day some­one else will take that man­tle.

“I still feel like I’m con­tribut­ing and I’m still hun­gry to give my best per­for­mances for the team. That’s the key. I know the end of my Su­per Rugby ca­reer is com­ing closer so I sup­pose that’s help­ing my mo­ti­va­tion.”

I have been for­tu­nate. I work re­ally hard to keep my body strong and healthy. Wy­att Crock­ett

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